The Cake’s Bath


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Toasted Pastel Vasco with Warm Blackberry Compote and Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

This dessert is almost straight out of the Suzanne Goin’s Lucques cookbook, except that they recommend poured cream instead of lemon verbena ice cream. As far as I can tell, pastel vasco is the Spanish counterpart of gateau basque; “Basque” and “Vasco” are believed to be etymologically linked. Both cakes are usually dense and buttery; laced with rum and/or orange flavor; and baked with fruit compote or pastry cream inside. I’ve only seen gateaux basques as discs, but Lucques calls for its pastel vasco to baked in a loaf pan, which allows you to toast slices at will.

The toasting is a touch of genius. It deepens the flavor of the butter, and of course, it crisps the outside of the slice while lightening the inside. I think that any pound cake would benefit from such treatment. Goin suggests buttering each slice before toasting it in a pan, but the cake already has more than enough butter so I didn’t do that that. I only wish that I could have toasted it in a wood-burning oven, as they do at the restaurant.

And blackberries paired with lemon verbena? YUM.

I like the way that Lucques’ compotes are made. They caramelize sugar with a vanilla bean before adding brandy and the fruit (or half the fruit). The fruit is strained out once it releases its juices, and the syrup is cooked with a little cornstarch before reuniting with the fruit in a bowl. The caramelized sugar gives a boost to the flavor and body, and the minimal cooking time retains the freshness of the fruit. A couple weeks ago, I made the sweet cherry compote with rainier cherries for the roman cherry tart, but ending up eating it plain because it was so good. Btw, I can’t quite get myself to use a precious new vanilla bean for a compote, so instead, I use old vanilla beans that I’ve rinsed and dried. I don’t like the cloying aspect of vanilla sugar, so I keep them in an airtight container for uses like this.

This dessert delivered the “deliciousness” promised by Goin, but frankly, the cake itself was a little disappointing. The cake photographed in the cookbook looks a little dry, and mine baked up a little dry. I think it’s a tricky cake to bake because the heat has to get through a lot of cake and compote in order to fully bake on top. The dryness might be intentional so that it toasts well, but the next time I make this, I’m going to use a different recipe for the cake component. I just can’t abide by dry cake.

I also sprinkled the top of the cake with Organic Turbinado Sugar from Trader Joe’s instead of the recommended granulated sugar. It added more flavor and texture, and I’d do that again.

Anyway, the title of this post has nothing to do with this cake, per se, except that the word “pastel” always reminds me a Spanish class that I took in Belize in 2002. Although we were cheerfully coaxed through declensions and lists of vocabulary words for weeks by a teacher who didn’t speak any English, I only remember the words that were taught when we were given leftover slices of pink-frosted cake from a volunteer’s birthday party. I learned that cake could be called “pastel” or “queque” (pronounced “kay-kay,” which I preferred). But even better, I was told that “el bano de pastel” meant frosting — which I translate as “the bath of the cake.” I’m still amused by the image of a cake relaxing into a bath full of comforting frosting after, say, a stressful day… and by the thought that frosting a cake is the equivalent of giving it a bath.

For my part, I introduced the topic of s’mores that afternoon, and our class enthusiastically set about describing them to the teacher in broken Spanish. I believe that the graham cracker was the hardest to construe accurately.

I find myself thinking about our patient and inquisitive teacher, Gabriela, sometimes. Despite my obviously loose grip on Spanish, I was able to understand that she had taught engineering at a university in Nicaragua. She had fled to Belize with her daughter, and that evening, would bring home a slice of pink-frosted cake for her.

11 Responses to “The Cake’s Bath”

  1. fattypr Says:

    that looks so beautiful! and i can’t decide which i like more, the cake or the belize story 🙂

  2. Cupcakes Says:

    I wish you’d post recipes…

    or come cook it for me?

  3. Nina Says:

    Thanks, fattypr! 🙂

    Cupcakes — I often wish that I could just hand out dessert to my readers!

    I no longer post recipes from cookbooks b/c of copyright issues, but I try to give as many resources as I can for the recipes (I even always search to see if it’s been published in an online article) and share techniques that maybe can be improvised at home. On the other side of that, I also figure that with descriptions of how they turn out, maybe I’m helping people who land on my site b/c they are searching for info about a recipe that they’re thinking about making.

    But I’ll keep it in mind for the future that if I significantly change a recipe, I’ll post it in recipe form.

  4. Helen Says:

    Toasted Gateau Basque…do you have any idea how big is the smile on my face right now?!!! Brilliant!

  5. Nina Says:

    Hahaha Seriously, Goin is pretty genius. And to make it even better — at her restaurant, they toasted it in a wood-burning oven!

  6. carla Says:

    Looks fantastic as always! Nina, what camera do you use? Your food photography just keeps getting better and better. And so vivid. I’m in the market for a new one…

    THANKS:)

  7. Nina Says:

    Thanks, Carla! I use a Casio Exilim EX-Z55 digital camera. It’s a few years old, though, and I think that they have a newer version available that’s even better, and less sensitive to slightly shaky hands — my pictures come out blurry very easily (so I take a lot of them!) . I’m also really careful about the adjusting the white balance setting and having a lot of light– I didn’t know how to adjust the white balance a year ago, and most of my indoor pic’s were slightly yellow. I also try not to use a flash, b/c it makes the food too shiny and weird-looking.

  8. carla Says:

    Nina, thanks so much for the photo tips! I’m going to test them out as I’ve suffered from everything you mentioned…shaky hands, bad lighting, etc., when it comes to foodie photos. I so appreciate it! Perhaps I’ll soon share with the world:)

    Good luck to your boyfriend and his new website! What a great idea! I will be sure to sign up soon.

  9. Nina Says:

    Good luck with the photos! I remember that when I figured out how to set my white balance correctly and got my first true-to-life food pic’s, I was so excited that I could barely sleep that night! Another thing, too, is that the settings are for one type of light, so I try to isolate it — for example, I’ll close all my blinds if I’m taking a picture under a lamp.

  10. emily Says:

    I just made this the other day and had the same impressions as you. Dry cake which wasn’t even that flavorful despite all the butter and goodies in it. The compote and cream made the dish — but they’d be good on any cake.

  11. Nina Says:

    Emily – Yeah, I have no idea where all the flavor and moistness went in that cake! But I am happy with the technique for making compote — I was never really into compote before, but this method gives a nice flavor and body. I recently got Pastries from the La Brea Bakery by Nancy Silverton, and she uses that technique for many fruits.

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